The history of fiction is littered with post-apocalyptic stories being used as boldly extreme, in-your-face metaphors for the human condition and the paths we collectively put ourselves on; whether it be atomic bombs, the climate crisis or our growing obsession with technology, each one is used to explore something much more “now” and introduce the audience to change. Horror isn’t just an immediate rush of adrenaline, it’s about examining the darkest depths of ourselves and our loved ones, about accepting that we’re far more complex than we might care to admit. Just how dark and complex are we? Well, that’s something which Netflix’s Cadaver attempts to find out.
Set in a starving Norway in the fallout of some unknown nuclear disaster, a strange (but potentially life-saving) event opens its doors to the public, offering them food and fun – to forget their struggles and hardships just for one evening. Yet unbeknownst to the guests, all is not what it seems.
Cadaver begins life as an ugly, washed out, uninteresting view of an apocalypse which feels much more banal and ordinary than it does dangerous. Thankfully, the transition to the world of the hotel, where guests will dine feverishly before experiencing eccentric live theatre in every room – free to wander from scenario to scenario – is when things pick up. As we follow the footsteps of Leonora (Gitte Witt), husband Jacob (Thomas Gullestad) and daughter Alice (Tuva Olivia Remman), the world begins to close in around us in a weird Eyes Wide Shut-meets-13 Tzameti cocktail. Alas, it is but a shame that things unravel as quickly as they do.
Writer-director Jarand Herdal doubts both the intelligence and interest of his audience, laying on every twist and turn as a thick slab of cement that halts the momentum and suffocates any emotional connection with our lead characters. Worse than this is the fact that such moments all come significantly later than expected, by which point the “gotcha!” reveals will undoubtedly be followed with “yes, we know” responses from the audience at home. Predictable is too small a term and in the world of horror it doesn’t bode well that the viewer regularly finds themselves ahead of the plot. When it all wraps up in as neat a bow as possible (answering questions that nobody asked), you’ll find yourself baffled that it was only 86 minutes long.
So just how deep and dark is humanity at the end of all this? Well, considering The Simpsons took a stab at a similar idea in their Treehouse of Horror V episode way back in 1994, not that dark at all. Yes, there are disturbing ideas at play and yes, blood and guts do make a classic guest appearance as is common in genre movies, but to say that any of it is upsetting or scary or distressing would be overkill. Put it on if you must and try to enjoy the ride from A to B, but it’s hardly going to find itself on anybody’s annual Halloween watchlist. For a late October horror release, that’s probably the most damning thing of all.
Available to stream on Netflix now